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Commerce and Toombs County Development Authority continue to improve the area.

Daniell praised the initiative of the Chamber and Development Authority to work for the betterment of the community through a partnership with citizens. “This is a citizen-led program to make your community a community for all people,” Daniell emphasized.

However, Daniell continued with this thought of inclusion for all to discuss where the Chamber could improve their efforts. “Look up the definition of all,” he remarked. “It means inclusive of everyone or everything. It is not exclusive.”

Daniell continued to question the attendees of the meeting on who needed to be included in this effort to make this truly an effort for all people. “Who are the partners that we’re missing? Who should be here? Only when you have all voices at the table will you make it better for all,” he explained.

Daniell stressed the importance of looking beyond the mere Toombs-Vidalia area. “Stop only thinking about Toombs and Vidalia only and consider your workforce, because 60% of them drive in,” Daniell explained.

He illustrated the need for partnership with neighboring counties through the comparison of statistics, such as teen pregnancy. The most contrasting statistic was the difference in the percentage of voluntary prekindergarten enrollment, which was at 48.4% in 2019 for Montgomery County while Toombs-Vidalia had an average of 73% voluntary enrollment the same year.

“If I were the Chamber in your situation, I would go to the superintendent at Montgomery County Schools and ask why the numbers were so low, and if there was anything the Chamber could do to support the effort,” Daniell explained. “You have to treat the root of the problems in your area.”

Daniell explained that citizens do not have to address every area, but merely volunteer and work in the area that seems to be the best fit for them. “Every community is different just like every person is different,” he said. “Work in the area that you are most enthusiastic about and in which you are most capable to tailor your program for your community.”

He emphasized the importance of protecting historic and beautiful buildings, hosting civic conferences to inform the public of civic matters, holding conferences for businesses in the area to make connections, and working with the local media. “Engage the local media,” Daniell said. “Always be transparent and responsive. If you want to build the community and change the community, you cannot be behind closed curtains.” Daniell argued, “Social media people are trying to get a message out as fast as possible. True media people, like the local media, are trying to share a complete story with all the facts. The local media is not your enemy.” The use of social media is also beneficial, according to Daniell. “Use social media to reach your younger audience; give a young individual the power to put the information on the right platform to best reach the youth,” he explained. “This does not mean to ignore the local media, though.” Daniell explained that the benefit of using both medias was the most productive for reaching and educating the community. “Hashtags and social media posts will reach certain audiences, but will not engage all,” he said. “To truly create a vibrant community, you have to keep the public engaged through whatever means necessary for all people.” Daniell encouraged the use of both medias to recognize volunteers because of the initiative it gives others to volunteer. “Everyone loves to be recognized.”

He also stressed the need to identify and groom young leaders to prepare the community for the future generations. He explained these leaders are not always the most successful students in school; thus, these leadership programs should be available for a variety of youth. “A-students are not always your leaders,” he argued. When discussing the methods of addressing economic development, Greater Vidalia Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Debbie Evans shared that the Chamber will be hosting its first Business Solutions Conference on September 23. The conference will feature several business experts, speakers, and representatives from multiple industries. Thursday’s workshop was a follow-up to a February 2020 meeting led by Quint Studer, founder of Vibrant Community Partners.

Studer’s enterprise assists communities in customizing a blueprint for achieving growth and excellence. Locally, the Chamber and Development Authority are embracing Studer’s model as they work with community partners to develop a plan that offers a high quality of life for all citizens and an environment where young people will have a productive future.

At the first local workshop in May, Daniell introduced a road map that will act as a guide for implementing local Vibrant Community activities. The road map includes the four “gears” in the machine that powers the community— Economic Development; Placemaking; Civic Education & Engagement; and Early Learning & Education. Workshop attendees were asked to consider which of these areas they might be interested in taking on.

The seminar concluded as attendees divided themselves into small groups based upon the areas in which they wished to serve. In the next workshops, attendees will receive a deeper understanding of each area and of how to work cohesively as a group.

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